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ISN develops U.S. policy on peaceful nuclear cooperation to advance U.S. national security priorities and clean energy initiatives. Civil nuclear energy policies advance U.S. priorities bilaterally and multilaterally through a variety of binding agreements, such as 123 agreements. ISN also works to promote nuclear energy as a clean energy solution via the Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) to build capacity in partner countries that are establishing nuclear energy programs to meet climate and energy security goals.

123 Agreements, Intergovernmental Agreements, and NCMOUs

In 1954, the United States enacted the Atomic Energy Act. Before the United States can conduct a significant nuclear export, Section 123 of the Act requires the United States have an agreement with the relevant country which meets specified criteria – hence the moniker “123 Agreement.”

123 Agreements are important tools for United States foreign policy as they legally bind partners to United States standards on nonproliferation, which are the most stringent and rigorous in the world. Engaging in 123 Agreements deepens political relationships between the United States and its partners. A full-fledged nuclear cooperation partnership can lead to political and economic ties lasting upwards of  100 years and can be the catalyst for cooperation on other foreign policy issues, and strengthened by a shared commitment to clean energy goals paired with the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation standards.

ISN also leads U.S. interagency negotiations with partner countries for Intergovermental Agreements (IGAs). Where appropriate, these legally binding agreements can create structured mechanisms for cooperation on specific commercial nuclear energy projects, outlining specific details such as the roles and responsibilities of each side, participating entities, and timelines.

ISN also works with countries on nuclear cooperation Memorandums of Understanding, which are diplomatic instruments to establish the basis for broader, strategic relationships between the United States and our partners.  MOUs elevate bilateral civil nuclear cooperation and nuclear nonproliferation goals to the most senior governmental levels, to develop stronger ties between the U.S. and partner country nuclear experts, industry, and researchers.

Read more about civil nuclear energy cooperation agreements here:

123 Factsheet

NCMOU fact sheet: Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding (NCMOU) – United States Department of State

Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology

At President Biden’s 2021 Leaders’ Summit on Climate, the White House announced the Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology program, a multiagency U.S. government initiative that provides capacity building support to partner countries exploring the potential for small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced nuclear reactor technologies. FIRST helps countries meet their clean energy needs consistent with the highest nuclear security, safety, and nonproliferation standards, in addition to helping partner countries safely and responsibly build a small modular reactor or other advanced reactor program.

FIRST helps partner countries:

  • establish a nuclear power program under the highest international standards for nuclear security, safety, and nonproliferation;
  • take advantage of next generation nuclear innovations and technologies in their sustainable energy plans;
  • meet their clean, reliable energy goals while protecting the global climate we all share; and
  • deepen relationships through government, industry, national laboratory, and university engagements.

FIRST is designed specifically to support countries considering SMRs or other advanced reactors to meet their clean energy needs with secure and safe nuclear power. These innovative technologies offer significant benefits, including:

  • lower costs;
  • scalability to meet the grid size;
  • siting flexibility and small footprint;
  • ability to partner with other clean energy sources such as wind and solar power; and
  • a range of applications, such as desalination, industrial processes, district heating, and hydrogen production.

Subject to program criteria and funding availability, FIRST offers a capacity-building supplement to interested partner countries that are new to civilian nuclear energy as well as to those seeking to expand their nuclear power programs with SMR or other advanced reactor technologies. Successful FIRST engagements can deepen strategic ties and advance technical collaboration with partner nations on secure and safe nuclear energy infrastructure.

Within the FIRST program, the Nuclear Expediting the Energy Transition (NEXT) program provides a suite of advanced project preparation tools and services for eligible countries nearing a potential SMR deployment decision. NEXT includes a set of tailored projects such as Project Phoenix, intended to support countries considering coal-to-SMR conversions to meet their clean energy needs through secure and safe nuclear energy.

More here:


U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future